If we consider those monarchs who have in some curious way touched the popular fancy without reference to their virtues we must go back to Richard of the Lion Heart, who saw but little of England, yet was the best essentially English king, and to Henry V., gallant soldier and conqueror of France. Even Henry VIII. had a warm place in the affection of his countrymen, few of whom saw him near at hand, but most of whom made him a sort of regal incarnation of John Bull—wrestling and tilting and boxing, eating great joints of beef, and staying his thirst with flagons of ale— a big, healthy, masterful animal, in fact, who gratified the national love of splendor and stood up manfully in his struggle with the Pope.
But if you look for something more than ordinary popularity— something that belongs to sentiment and makes men willing to become martyrs for a royal cause—we must find these among the Stuart kings. It is odd, indeed, that even at this day there are Englishmen and Englishwomen who believe their lawful sovereign to be a minor Bavarian princess in whose veins there runs the Stuart blood. Prayers are said for her at English shrines, and toasts are drunk to her in rare old wine.
Of course, to-day this cult of the Stuarts is nothing but a fad. No one ever expects to see a Stuart on the English throne. But it is significant of the deep strain of romance which the six Stuarts who reigned in England have implanted in the English heart. The old Jacobite ballads still have power to thrill. Queen Victoria herself used to have the pipers file out before her at Balmoral to the “skirling” of “Bonnie Dundee,” “Over the Water to Charlie,” and “Wha’ll Be King but Charlie!” It is a sentiment that has never died. Her late majesty used to say that when she heard these tunes she became for the moment a Jacobite; just as the Empress Eugenie at the height of her power used pertly to remark that she herself was the only Legitimist left in France.
It may be suggested that the Stuarts are still loved by many Englishmen because they were unfortunate; yet this is hardly true, after all. Many of them were fortunate enough. The first of them, King James, an absurd creature, speaking broad Scotch, timid, foolishly fond of favorites, and having none of the dignity of a monarch, lived out a lengthy reign. The two royal women of the family—Anne and Mary—had no misfortunes of a public nature. Charles II. reigned for more than a quarter of a century, lapped in every kind of luxury, and died a king.
The first Charles was beheaded and afterward styled a “saint”; yet the majority of the English people were against his arrogance, or else he would have won his great struggle against Parliament. The second James was not popular at all. Nevertheless, no sooner had he been expelled, and been succeeded by a Dutchman gnawing asparagus and reeking of cheeses, than there was already a Stuart legend. Even had there been no pretenders to carry on the cult, the Stuarts would still have passed into history as much loved by the people.